Posco to relight Finex furnace after near miss

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Posco to relight Finex furnace after near miss

Posco is likely to fire up its Finex furnace as early as today. It has been off since Friday after the exterior caught fire. According to the company there was a crack the size of a baseball in the exhaust pipeline connected to the furnace. The firefighters were able to extinguish the flames in one and half hours.

Fortunately no employees were injured, and the financial damage is expected to be minimal. The steelmaker said it halted the furnace on Wednesday after unusual signals were picked up by the sensors.

“The sensors that pick up unusual readings in the furnace lit up on March 20, so we shut it down until 4 a.m. March 22 and ran a system checkup,” said a Posco official. However, 16 hours after it was fired up again the furnace caught fire around 8 p.m. Friday when the exhaust fan blew up. The steelmaker is current accused of failing to properly inspect it. The company speculated that the explosion was caused by the increased pressure within the furnace as it requires an extremely high temperature reaching up to 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,732 Fahrenheit) and high pressure. The facility that was damaged is state-of-the-art technology in the industry where molten steel is produced after iron ore and bituminous coal are mixed in a blast furnace. The Finex process is known to be the most cost effective while producing far less toxic waste.

The 17-meter-tall (56-foot) furnace was built in 2003 as the world’s first test facility of the Finex process. It produces 600,000 tons of steel every year. It was the initial model for the second plant that was constructed in 2007 and produces 1.5 million tons of steel annually. The third Finex furnace is still under construction and scheduled to be completed by the end of this year. Once completed, the third furnace is expected to produce 2 million tons of steels annually.

The Posco furnace fire has once again raised the questions of major companies’ lack of safety measures as a series of plant accidents of major conglomerates, including Samsung Electronics, LG and SK, happened since the beginning of the year. This year alone already nine conglomerates have suffered major accidents, including leakage of toxic gas, major fires and explosions that took lives. The first was Woongjin whose polysilicon plant in Sangju, North Gyeongsang, leaked hydrochloric acid on Jan. 15. Although no one was injured 760 residents were evacuated. Samsung Electronics soon followed. In the same month the company’s chip-making plant in Suwon leaked toxic hydrofluoric acid gas that killed one employee and injured four.

The company was further criticized for reporting the leakage to the authorities 26 hours after the incident happened. If an employee hadn’t died the incident may have gone unreported to the public. Earlier this month, LG Siltron’s plant in Gumi, North Gyeongsang, leaked mixed acid, while the Daelim Industrial chemical plant in Yeosu, South Jeolla, exploded, killing six workers and injuring 11. Also, on Friday SK Hynix had toxic chlorine gas leak from its chip manufacturing plant in Cheongju, North Chungcheong.

For Posco, this is the seventh incident for the steel plant in Pohang. The first was in September 1994 when an explosion killed one employee and injured two. Accidents in August 1995, March 1999 and August 2001 took the lives of five employees while injuring two.

By Lee Ho-jeong, Kim Yoon-ho [ojlee82@joongang.co.kr]

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